Nathan’s umbilical cord is buried in this planter box. It rests below rocks we’ve collected from various travels and flowers that bloom come spring. Shortly after it fell off Nathan’s newborn belly, My mother and I dug a hole and plopped in the dark lump. There wasn’t any accompanying fanfare or eulogy. The idea is that burying the umbilical cord in the ground will keep a child from growing up wild and running loose in the streets.
I don’t believe that this works in that it replaces years of proper parenting and discipline. But I loved the ceremony of it, that I was continuing a family ritual that will explain to any excavators why my old backyard is filled with bellybuttons.
1) McDonald’s came to Saipan in 1992 and before that, the only way to get a Happy Meal was if someone went to Guam and brought it home. There was no greater status symbol in fifth grade than the sight of a cold, soggy, but fancy flown-in french fry.
2) I remember Matsumoto’s theater after the American couple started managing it. The one-plex theater showed only one movie at a time and Titanic ran for a whole month.
3) I got into my first of only two physical fights I have ever been in at Starlight (?) Night Club during their “teen night.” I was trying to walk away from a girl when she pulled my hair. And after a high-pitched shrieking rush of hair pulling and face grabbing, a security guard broke up our tangled bodies. The other girl tried to stare me down but I didn’t care as I danced freely to my favorite song, New Order’s “Bizzare Love Triangle.”
4) During the short stint at Catholic school, I got into a near-fight with a girl I will call “Divine” when she claimed that she saw me flip her the bird. If the teacher hadn’t stepped in, it would have been fight number two.
5) During the holidays, a selected group from the local parish would visit each home in the village, bearing a baby Jesus or the niño and a box for monetary gifts. You would welcome the baby Jesus into your house and call everyone to kneel and kiss it. They played loud Chamorro Christmas songs to signal their arrival and every year I would try to feign disability to get out of kissing that germy ceramic doll but my mother would pull me out, Garfield pajamas and all, until I had kissed the niño.
6) I heard chickens, roosters, and church bells every day.
7) Whenever I read American lit like The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High, I never understood why girls were afraid of geckos.
8) My mother told me numerous times that I’m not allowed to leave the Catholic church “even if the priests dance in bikinis.” [SIC!] Seriously, if you ask her if priests dancing in bikinis is a religious deal breaker, she’ll snap, “AY! NO! Even if the priests dance in bikinis, you cannot leave the church!”
9) And while on the subject of matri-distortion, I was in the third grade when discovered that not everyone called their vaginas “pancakes” (hence, ruining breakfast starches FOREVER).
10) Three elders from the Church of Latter Day Saints were visiting my neighbor’s mom and while they were there, they teased me about the gunk I had in my eye, called mugu, and I ran away crying. Some people call that stuff “morning glory,” but that’s baffling, not glorious.
11) To show respect to elders, you bow your head toward his/her right hand to “amen,” basically asking for their blessing. You say ñot for males and ñora for females. Angelo has a more thorough explanation of this practice. At a rosary, I faced amening a long row of women sitting at a table, so instead of doing it one by one, I ran along the ladies, my head bent and my mouth bleating a long, “Ñooooooorrrrraaaa.” I have never seen my mother run so fast to pull me out of there, gripping my hair in her hand.
12) I dropped out of catechism class three times before my mother told me she’d give me money if I just got my confirmation. At 18, I joined the confirmation class for adults and when we introduced ourselves, one woman with a strong and charming Chamorro accent shared that she had “tree kids.”
13) At 16, I won the Attorney General’s Cup which was at the time the most prestigious speech competition on island. I found out later that right before I went up to speak, my mother turned to an Assistant Attorney General, pointed to the ceiling and said, “Those lights look like earrings!”
14) My favorite Chamorro food is corn soup and I will pay cash money to anyone with Marji’s Kitchen’s recipe.
15) Japan Airlines flew in snow one time for a snowman competition but the snow had hardened during shipment. I remember one kid getting a black eye from a
snowball ice-ball fight.
16) Thanks to a very international student body, I learned how to swear in Korean, Chinese, and Russian.
17) I was fitted for my third-grade wardrobe at Roshi’s, an Indian store that sold both clothing *and* electronics. Who doesn’t need shoulder-pads and a 20-inch TV?
18) On All Soul’s Day, it was tradition to sit at our family’s plot at the cemetary for mass. Unlike cemetaries here on the mainland, Saipan’s plots are often elaborate creations of porcelain and other fancy materials and there is enough small for your family to gather and pay respects during the mass. Do not bring children. Children will always complain, “I’m hot. I’m sweaty. There are dead people below me.”
19) When the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library opened, I lived there for several months and checked out seven books even though I knew I wouldn’t read them all.
20) Whenever I’ve flown back home, I’ve pressed my face to the glass and pretended I could see my house but at such an altitude, my home blended in with the green landscape below, even with my finger moving over the window, pointing out that I live here, or here, or here.